It makes more sense to extend Zack Wheeler than Jacob deGrom

Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher on the Mets. But that doesn’t mean he should be the club’s top priority to ink to a long-term extension. The Mets are in an awkward position with deGrom, as last year his agent very publicly asked for a long-term deal. And of course his agent last year is now the Mets’ General Manager. If Brodie Van Wagenen doesn’t lock up deGrom, he’s going to look bad. Plus, the fans want him signed, regardless.

The Mets have deGrom under control for two more seasons. Some have offered – presumably with a straight face – that the club not use its leverage in this situation. That’s beyond crazy. Imagine telling a player who’s eligible for free agency not to use his leverage. No one would dream of that. Because it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.

If the club wants to extend deGrom, if it believes there are goodwill considerations at play here, that’s fine. But it should be a back burner issue. To his credit, Van Wagenen has been focusing on other issues first, as he’s pulled off a major trade and made two high-dollar free agent acquisitions. But even after those moves, a deGrom extension does not rise to the level of urgency.

Besides, if extending a pitcher already under contract is a priority, the focus should be on a different hurler.

Zack Wheeler had a better year last season than even his biggest supporters would have dreamed possible. But with the way it unfolded – and Wheeler’s own uneven prior history – there are still plenty of people who consider him a question mark going into 2019 than a sure thing. Even other clubs didn’t believe in Wheeler enough at last year’s trade deadline to pay anything close to fair value for him. Right now, the Mets have an opportunity to lock up Wheeler to a long-term deal at a below-market rate. But it’s a short window and the Mets need to act while they still have the chance.

In the second half of last year, deGrom had a 1.73 ERA and a 0.833 WHIP – tremendous numbers that helped him win the CY Award. In that same span, Wheeler had a 1.68 ERA and a 0.813 WHIP and was 9-1. Pick any adjective you want – eye-popping, dominating, outstanding – to describe Wheeler because it fits what he delivered for the club.

We’ve seen stretches in the past where Wheeler has been very good, even if not at the level he achieved in 2018. But those were derailed by injuries. Not only was he healthy last year but we also saw a guy focused on attacking hitters with his stuff, rather than trying to execute a perfect pitch. Maybe it was the guidance of new coaches or maybe it was nothing more than experience and maturity coming to the forefront. Either way the results were terrific.

But still we come back to the injuries.

Wheeler missed two years recovering from TJ surgery and then had his 2017 season end early due to a stress reaction in his right arm. It’s important to distinguish between the two injuries. It was ligament damage that required the surgery that knocked him out for two years. The stress reaction was a bone issue. Wheeler ended up taking the prescription medicine Forteo, which was administered via shots in the stomach, for six months prior to last season.

There were no reports last year of ligament or bone issues for Wheeler. The primary concern was the workload, as he pitched nearly 100 innings more in 2018 than the previous season. So far this offseason, there’s been no word about any lingering soreness.

Just because there’s been no injury news in the offseason doesn’t mean that Wheeler is home free. And any talk about an extension comes with the assumption that he undergoes a vigorous physical/check-up. But a Wheeler who passes those tests would be the guy to extend. The uncertainty surrounding his health, along with the fact that Wheeler has not made a ton of money up until now, makes him an ideal candidate, one who would likely trade dollars for security.

Up until this point, Wheeler has made just over $4 million in his career, according to Baseball-Reference. MLBTR estimates that he’ll make $5.3 million in arbitration this year, his last season of team control before he hits free agency. Meanwhile, 34-year-old Charlie Morton, who missed time last year with a shoulder injury and who only once in his career has made 30 starts, just signed a two-year $30 million deal in free agency for his age 35-36 seasons.

Let’s say that Wheeler remains healthy in 2019 and puts up a season close to what he did last year. In 2018, he finished 11th in the NL with a 3.31 ERA. Let’s say he has a 3.50 ERA, with a WHIP close to last year’s 1.124 mark. How much would that guy, who would be entering his age 30 season, be worth if Morton gets $15 million per year? It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t command at least a four-year deal, with a salary likely to be comfortably above $15 million per.

Of course, right now Wheeler doesn’t have that healthy 2019 season to back his healthy 2018 performance. And the Mets should use that to their potential long-term advantage. If you were Wheeler, with his injury history and having made the relatively low sum of money that he has to date in the majors, and the Mets offered you a four-year, $40 million deal, wouldn’t you take it?

FanGraphs estimates that Wheeler’s 2018 season was worth $33 million in free agent dollars.

The $40 million offer seems reasonable to me but may not seem reasonable at all to Wheeler. He may be content to go to free agency and earn himself a deal worth twice that much. But one thing that gets lost is that Wheeler has already once expressed his desire to management to remain with the Mets. While he never got the miles and miles of publicity out of it that Wilmer Flores did, Wheeler went to Sandy Alderson and made a personal appeal to the then-GM to remain in Queens.

Wheeler spoke to Newsday’s Marc Carig about the call to Alderson: “I know that doesn’t happen every day and I was nervous about doing it,” said Wheeler, still a Met. “But I figured it was the best way to get it across that I wanted to stay and be a part of this team’s winning future.”

The Mets can get a hometown discount with Wheeler that they won’t get with deGrom. Does it come with risk? Absolutely. But let’s not pretend that any long-term deal with a pitcher doesn’t come with risk. There’s higher risk with extending Wheeler than there is with extending deGrom. But that’s risk from a health standpoint. The financial risk would be considerably less with Wheeler. Can you imagine making a 4/$40 offer to deGrom? It would be a surprise if the deGrom extension proposal wasn’t at least twice that much. And the risk-reward equation, in my opinion, is significantly more favorable to the Mets if they extend Wheeler.

17 comments for “It makes more sense to extend Zack Wheeler than Jacob deGrom

  1. Steve S.
    December 17, 2018 at 11:25 am

    Totally agree. Four years, $40-45 million would be an incredible bargain for the Mets. Now’s the time! deGrom can wait a bit longer.

    It is great that the Mets really have three #1 starters, and probably are a 85-86 win team right now. Add a couple of more pieces, and they have a good chance at getting into the playoffs. And with their pitching, go a long way then.

  2. Chris F
    December 17, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    Zack Wheeler, pitching’s Juan Lagares. If he has the world bamboozled, then I sell high.

    No thanks. I’ll sign the guy that knows whats going on out there, has control of the situation, and never gets rattled.

  3. Metsense
    December 17, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    Once again, you hit the nail on the head Brian. Wheeler should be the priority and should get a four-year contract. Any pitcher is a risk. I think you could even go up to 54 million for 4 years. If he doesn’t want to sign then I would trade him before spring training. To me, Wheeler is a bigger priority than deGrom.

  4. December 17, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    (this is more appropriate here)

    The way the MLB system works, the real motivation for extending deGrom is public posture for a popular player, and visibility to other players/free agents.

    My personal feelings are that Jake should ask for 100 million of guaranteed money before he throws another pitch…and I’m reasonably certain that’s been expressed constructively. I’d like to see his final 2 years “bought out” with 2 more guaranteed and mutual option 5th. that allows Jake to sell himself at a later date. The guarantee should come with some reasonable “discount”. Neither side should over leverage their positions.

  5. Name
    December 17, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    It’s only a discount if you can sign him for less than you think it would take to get him a year later.

    Best case i see for Wheeler is getting what Eovaldi got from the Sox – 4 years 68 mil.
    Average case i can see a Chatwood type of deal – 3 years 38 mil, to make it a 4 year deal maybe 48 mil.
    If he flops he’ll get continual 1 or 2 year deals – with his “upside” most likely with at least a 5-6 mil base ,so over 4 years at least 20 mil.

    A 4 year 40 mil deal will mean the Mets are risking 20 mil and have the potential to save up to 28 mil. Is this risk profile worth it? It depends on your personal outlook.

    • December 17, 2018 at 3:00 pm

      I don’t see that as best-case scenario at all.

      Wheeler’s start to 2018 was so poor that his best-case scenario is better than his season-long ERA of 3.31, with a sub-3.00 ERA not being outlandish. His final 24 starts he had a 2.86 ERA. He follows up 2018 with a season where he goes 30 starts with a 3.00 ERA and he’s getting considerably more than Eovaldi. The career-best for Eovaldi was a 3.2 fWAR, in 2015. He had an injury-shortened 2016 and then missed all of 2017. Last year he had a 2.2 fWAR.

      Alex Cobb last year got 4/$57 and that was for a guy entering his age 30 season and coming off a year with a 2.3 fWAR (he was in negative numbers the year before.) If Wheeler comes in with back-to–back fWAR seasons over 4, he’s getting more than 3 million more per year than Cobb.

      Yu Darvish missed all of 2015 and then came back and put up fWAR marks of 2.8 and 3.7 and he got 6/$126 starting in his age 31 season. Now Darvish had more success before the injury than Wheeler but if Wheeler puts up two better healthier years right before free agency and comes in a year younger, too, that’s going to be big points in his favor.

      Johnny Cueto had an injury-shortened 2013 and then came back and put up fWAR seasons of 4.6 and 4.0 before hitting free agency starting at his age 30 season. He got 6/$130.

      A year where he’s close to what he did in 2018 gets Wheeler much closer to the Darvish/Cueto neighborhood than the Eovaldi one.

      • Name
        December 17, 2018 at 6:54 pm

        Yes you are right. If Wheeler has a phenomenal Cy Young season next year some team could be dumb enough to offer him that kind of money, as the Nationals just did with Corbin.

  6. December 17, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    It probably makes lots of sense for Wheeler to “Gamble” on himself. If He throws 200 innings, he’s getting 100 million dollars…a bit less/a lot more, depending on the stats.

    Wheeler was both a Hot Pitcher, and a different pitcher than he was in prior seasons. The Stat line over at least the second half of the season Proves the Eyes…he was an enormous presence.

  7. MattyMets
    December 17, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Both and Thor too. I want to lock up all 3 and remain competitive for years to come like the 90s Braves.

    • Chris F
      December 17, 2018 at 7:03 pm

      Do me a favor and price that out Matt. Im curious what that would look like.

  8. NYM6986
    December 17, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    It’s sad that the Mets, like many teams, have a great starting staff but instead of paying up and winning a few titles, they will decide which pitchers they can’t afford. Then they get a free agent who is too old and they still spend $15 Million. Sign Wheels. Sign Jake. Sign Thor. Sign Machado or Harper and print playoff tickets.

    • Name
      December 18, 2018 at 10:15 am

      Please elaborate on which pitchers the Mets, and “many teams”, have decided they can’t afford.

  9. TexasGusCC
    December 18, 2018 at 3:03 am

    I just can’t see Wheeler taking a 4/$40 contract, just like I can’t see the Mets not letting the season start and seeing if last year was a mirage. If the Mets want to sign him at any time, he won’t decline it. I believe Metsense’s 4/$54 is actually a little light, but closer to reality. If I’m Wheeler, I don’t sell myself short. I may give a discount, but discounts are 10%, not 25%. That’s clearance.

    If I’m Wheeler and the Mets offer 4/$60, I think about it and talk to my immediate family to get feedback. At 4/$54, I would decline. Let’s put it this way, if Wheels has a good year, you QO him at $19+MM. So, if you are giving $19 for one year, the other three are at less than $12 each? That’s light. However, if the Mets say “Zack, how about 3/$50?” It’s a shorter term, but the AAV is where it needs to be. It’s a discount of sorts, but it’s something that would give me comfort and security while feeling that I’m young enough that my next contract can still be a good one, and I can accumulate that way.

    • December 18, 2018 at 9:18 am

      You might be right that 4/$40 is too low.

      I’d be lying if I said I had a good feel what the contract should be. However, I’m confident that deals that buy out arb seasons are frequently much greater than a 10% discount. And with Wheeler doing so much better last year than he has previously because of the past injuries, it only adds to the discount.

      • TexasGusCC
        December 18, 2018 at 10:14 am

        Well, if Boras is your agent it doesn’t, LOL. The Wil Myers and Elvis Andrus contracts were rediculous.

        But as far as Wheeler is concerned, he will be a Free Agent. The team control is gone after this year, and that’s what I’m addressing too.

        • December 18, 2018 at 9:53 am

          And I’m saying the Mets shouldn’t let him get to free agency.

  10. TexasGusCC
    December 18, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    Speaking of Boras from above, Harvey got one year $11MM with incentives to $14MM. We better hope Wheeler or JDG don’t hire him, LOL!!

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